WILKES-BARRE – When Father Fidel Ticona walked into a downstairs room at Saint Nicholas Church in mid-August, the parishioners burst into sudden applause.

For many, it was the first time they had seen Father Fidel in five months.

In March, when travel restrictions started being put in place, the 50-year-old cleric was on vacation visiting family in his native Peru. He ended up spending five months in the South American country because he could not return home to Luzerne County.

“I usually take my vacation around that time. It’s summer time in the south, back home. It was about a two and a-half week vacation that was planned and expected,” Father Fidel recounted. “I was ready to come back and look what happened.”

Father Fidel said he was on his way to the airport when his niece called him and told him everything was going to be shut down due to COVID-19 concerns.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Father Fidel explained. “When I got there, it was chaos in the airport. There was nobody to talk with. People didn’t know what to do.”

After a few hours, Father Fidel was told that he could still take a domestic flight to Lima, the capital city of Peru, for the first part of his journey home to Wilkes-Barre. Realizing that if he took that flight to Lima he still wouldn’t be able to return to the United States, he decided to stay put in his native Puno, Peru.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Father Fidel admitted.

Initially, Father Fidel thought he would need to remain in Peru for only a month, but he quickly realized it would take much longer to return home.

“I tried to get a plane ticket through different countries,” he said. “I got one after a month and a-half. I was ready to come back. Three days before, the flight was cancelled.”

Father Fidel often thought about all of the items on his work calendar, including baptisms, but it wasn’t until he had a phone call with Father Joseph Verespy, pastor of Saint Nicholas Parish, when he learned that many local events also were being changed because of the coronavirus.

“After that, I enjoyed my time,” Father Fidel admitted.

The quarantine in Peru was very strict. Father Fidel said only one person per family was allowed to go out for necessities like groceries and medicine. He said there was a curfew between 5:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.

“We were allowed to go out on designated days by gender. I was allowed to go out Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Women were allowed to go out Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday,” he said.

Travelling was also no easy task. In most cases, it took Father Fidel two hours to walk to the store in only one direction.

“We had to walk. There was no way to move from one place to another place,” he said. “You had to wait in line for hours and hours.”

Father Fidel was able to leave Peru on July 23. He arrived back in Wilkes-Barre on July 25 and then spent two weeks in quarantine locally before returning to public ministry duties.

“It’s nice to be home,” he said. “It has been really rewarding to work with the Hispanic population who are most in need.”

While he was able to talk to some parishioners by phone while he was in Peru, Father Fidel said now that he is back in Wilkes-Barre there is a lot of work to do.

“What I have to do goes beyond their spiritual needs,” admitting that he helps his parishioners with finding jobs, translating documents and other necessary services.


Pope Francis leads his general audience in the library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Aug. 26, 2020. Christians cannot stand idly by and watch as milions of people are deprived of their basic needs because of greed, the pope said. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

By Carol Glatz Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Christians cannot stand idly by and watch as millions of people are deprived of their basic needs because of others’ greed, Pope Francis said.

“When the obsession to possess and dominate excludes millions of people from having primary goods, when economic and technological inequality are such that the social fabric is torn and when dependence on unlimited material progress threatens our common home, then we cannot stand by and watch,” he said Aug. 26 during his weekly general audience.

Christians must act together, rooted in God and united in the hope of “generating something different and better” that is more just and equitable, he said.

During a livestream from the library of the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis continued a series of talks on the principles of the church’s social doctrine as a guide for healing and building a better future.

Focusing on the universal destination of goods, the pope said this is “the first principle of the whole ethical and social order.”

God entrusted the earth and its resources “to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them,” he said, citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2402).

When God called on his children to “have dominion” over the earth in his name, the pope said, this was not to be interpreted as “a ‘carte blanche’ to do whatever you want with the earth.”

“No,” he said. “There exists a relationship of mutual responsibility between us and nature.”

Communities must protect the earth, take only what they need for subsistence and make sure the fruits of the earth reach everyone, not just a few people, the pope said.

A person should see his or her legitimate possessions “not only as his own but also as common in the sense that they should be able to benefit not only him but also others,” according to the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (“Gaudium et Spes”).

In fact, the catechism says ownership of any property makes the “holder a steward of providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others,” he said.

“We are stewards of goods, not masters” or lords keeping them “selfishly for yourself,” he added.

The pope said the catechism also says, “political authority has the right and duty to regulate the legitimate exercise of the right to ownership for the sake of the common good.”

This “subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods,” he said, “is a golden rule of social conduct and the first principle of the whole ethical and social order.”

Property and money are meant to be instruments that serve development, he said.

However, people easily turn property and money into ends in themselves, he added.

When that happens, he said, the human being, who was made in the image and likeness of God, “becomes deformed” and becomes individualistic, calculating and dominating, instead of social, creative, cooperative and charitable “with an immense capacity to love.”

Social inequality and environmental degradation go hand in hand, he said, and have the same root cause: “the sin of wanting to possess and dominate one’s brothers and sisters, nature and God himself,” which was not God’s plan for creation.

The inequalities in the world “reveal a social illness; it is a virus that comes from a sick economy,” which is the result of unfair economic growth that disregards fundamental human values and leaves just a handful of people with more wealth than the rest of the world, he said.

“If we take care of the goods that the creator gives us, if we put what we possess in common in such a way that no one would be lacking, then we would truly inspire hope to regenerate a more healthy and equal world,” he said.



KINGSTON – For the last 34 years, Janet Lyons has been shaping the hearts and minds of Catholic elementary school students at Good Shepherd Academy. With diocesan schools preparing to reopen soon for in-person instruction five days a week, she is excited to return to the classroom.

“I really, truly miss the children. It’ll be nice to get back to some kind of normalcy,” the veteran educator said. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Lyons feels the safety procedures put into place by the diocese will help mitigate any potential risks of the virus.

“I do believe they’re in the safest place they could be. They’re like my own children. As a teacher, you do treat them like that, you look at them like that. You protect them and they will be protected in this school,” she added.

Lyons teaches second grade at the Luzerne County school with her colleague, Jennifer Jones, who is also excited to get back to in-person instruction.

“The kids thrive on routine. I’m excited to make eye contact and there is nothing like that conversation one-onone with somebody, face-to-face and just making the kids feel back to normal and comfortable,” Jones said.

“It’s an opportunity to get back to teaching our faith and living our faith with these kids side-by-side. We always made that connection through distance learning but now I feel it’s a better opportunity to really embrace our Catholic identity and our Catholic faith and do what we love.”

The last time teachers were in the classroom was Friday, March 13. On that day, Governor Tom Wolf ordered all schools to close as the coronavirus began to spread in Pennsylvania. On the following Monday, March 16, the Diocese of Scranton Catholic School System launched its distance learning initiative. Five months later, Jones, a parent of two children herself, will be sending both kids back to Catholic Schools in the diocese in addition to being back in the classroom herself. Both teachers and students will need to wear masks and desks will be physically distanced from one another.

“I think everything is a teachable moment. This is an opportunity to teach selflessness and showing the kids that these small sacrifices that we’re making are going to pay off for everyone and it really goes back to our Catholic identity and the golden rule – Love God and love others – and you do what you can to show your love for others in small, selfless ways,” Jones added.

At La Salle Academy in Jessup, teachers came together in person last week for a professional development day in the school’s gymnasium. With each teacher seated at their own table, the educators were learning how to use technology most effectively.

“I really feel that we have been afforded a lot of opportunities with the Diocese of Scranton in the years that I’ve worked here at least, for having those professional development sessions that are enhancing our abilities to teach the most effective practices,” teacher Shaina Dougherty said. Since March, Dougherty said she has missed the ‘noise’ of her classroom.

“A lot of people that aren’t teachers may see that ‘noise’ as noise, a lot of loud kids in a class. For me, it’s all about creating a community and allowing every voice to be heard and sometimes out of that noise comes incredible things,” she added.

Cody Opalka, a social studies teacher at Holy Redeemer High School, agrees that there is a special energy behind teaching and welcomes the engagement that goes along with in-person instruction.

“I’m excited and I’m positive about making it work,” Opalka stressed. When reflecting on what the first day of school will be like this year, a smile came over his face. “I’ve had a lot of first days. This one is going to be different so the butterflies are going to be there like always but it’s going to be a good different. It’s going to be about making it safe for the students, making sure they have what they need on that first day, that reassurance, so it’s going to be more of a comforting kind of entry,” he said.

In addition to in-person instruction, families in the Diocese of Scranton Catholic School System also expressed a desire for a virtual option for instruction. The Diocesan Virtual Academy will provide those families with the opportunity to begin their instruction completely online, or to transition into the Diocesan Virtual Academy, if desired, during the year.

Both options have the mission of providing an academically excellent and faith-filled experience for students. Ben Tolerico, principal of Holy Cross High School, says if parents choose a virtual education, their students will remain an important part of the Catholic school community.

“If a Holy Cross student chooses to take part in the Diocesan Virtual Academy, they’re still a part of Holy Cross. If we have any kind of activities, for example a virtual Mass, they would still be a part of that,” he said. Tolerico has spent countless hours over the summer preparing to welcome students back.

“Since May really we have been going non-stop in planning, the changing of plans, trying to figure out the right formula and it has been a lot of work. It has certainly been worthwhile work and it has just been an amazing effort and a team effort all the way throughout the top of the Diocese down to the schools in making sure we are committed to having a quality education in the safest environment possible,” Tolerico added.

A life-long educator, Tolerico said since March his teachers have been willing to go above-and-beyond. “I will never, ever be able to thank them enough for their efforts,” he said.


MOUNT POCONO — When the doors of Villa of Our Lady Retreat House closed earlier this month, it closed an historical chapter of long and distinguished service in the Diocese of the Scranton by the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters dating back nearly 100 years.

Bishop Joseph C. Bambera served as principal celebrant and homilist for a final Mass of Gratitude and Thanksgiving on August 1 in the Villa of Our Lady chapel.

A group of Bernardine Franciscans joined the last three nuns in residence at the wellknown retreat house — Bernardine Franciscan Sisters Jean Anthony Rodgers, Josandra Ciucci and Anna Mae Milus.

Several local clergy concelebrated the closing liturgy attended by friends, volunteers and co-workers who supported the Bernardine community in their landmark ministry in the diocese, which began in 1905.

Their ministerial service stretched from catechetics to all levels of education; elder care to outreach to the poor; and pastoral, prison and retreat ministry to spiritual direction. Reflecting on the passing of Villa of Our Lady Retreat House as the last mission entrusted to the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters in the diocese, Bishop Bambera lauded their far-reaching apostolic works.

“After more than 125 years of service in the Diocese of Scranton, you are being called to serve in different ways and places,” Bishop Bambera said, “yet, with the same commitment to spreading the good news of God’s love and mercy to the faithful entrusted to your care.” He continued with a nostalgic reflection on his own personal encounters with the Bernardine Franciscan congregation.

“Of course, as a priest and bishop, I’ve had many opportunities to engage the Sisters of your community — the happiest of which were my years as pastor of Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish in Dickson City, where your Sisters staffed the parish school since its beginning days,” the Bishop recalled.

According to Bernardine Franciscan Sister Rosemary Stets, congregation historian, the first mission of the OSF congregation in the Scranton Diocese was to serve Saint Stanislaus Parish School in Nanticoke in the early 1900s, followed by ministry at Saint Mary Parish in Nanticoke. ‘

In the succeeding years, the Bernardine Sisters would teach in 32 elementary schools and six high schools; staff orphanages in Nanticoke and Elmhurst, two health care facilities in Hazleton, and their signature Villa of Our Lady Retreat House in Mount Pocono.

By the mid-20th century, the religious community’s presence increased and a need arose for a provincial headquarters in the Diocese. The OSF Sisters established Saint Francis Province in Scranton on Clay Avenue. The provincial house would be the central location for the Bernardine Franciscans in Eastern Pennsylvania until 1958 when it was relocated to Reading.

The closing remarks of Bernardine Franciscan Sister Marilisa da Silva, congregational minister, included praise and gratitude for the trio of Villa of Our Lady Sisters who orchestrated the closure process during the past six months. “We realize that this enormous task was possible through the generosity of our lay employees who worked tirelessly with the Sisters,” she said


PECKVILLE – As she welcomed her Holy Cross classmates to their graduation ceremony at Valley View’s John Henzes/Veterans Memorial Stadium on July 20, 2020, salutatorian Leslie O’Connor also gave them a mission moving forward.

“Let us all work harder at healing the world than we ever have at anything else in our lives,” the Archbald native challenged her peers. During her speech, O’Connor tackled a difficult topic – the fact that many people refuse to listen to one another and refuse to understand people who have different ideas.

“We surround ourselves solely with those who agree with us and seek to isolate ourselves from those with different points of view. We stigmatize, marginalize, generalize and stereotype those whose beliefs challenge our own without taking the time to learn the realities of these individuals, their situations or the basis for their opinions,” O’Connor said. True to her Catholic faith and what she learned at Holy Cross High School, O’Connor reflected on the life and message of Jesus to inspire her fellow graduates. She said Jesus’ message of “uncompromising, indiscriminate love” should be a guiding principle.

“What will produce healthy change, however, is truly putting Jesus’ message into action; loving those who don’t love us. Loving everyone. Treating our neighbors as we would want them to treat us. Being willing to spread our message to all and being even more willing to allow all other messages to be spread to us,” the Holy Cross salutatorian said.

“If we are willing to consider, listen to, and love the beliefs of all people, especially those opposing ourselves, our hearts and our communities will have no room for hate or division, as they shouldn’t.”

A total of 71 graduates received diplomas at the Commencement ceremony, which featured students wearing masks and sitting socially distant from each other in chairs on the football field due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Family and friends were able to watch from the stadium seats and dozens of others watched a livestream provided by the school. During her valedictorian address, Tori Kovalchick said it would be impossible to summarize the experiences of the Holy Cross Class of 2020 with a single story, but emphasized the well-rounded education all of the graduates received.

“What makes our story at Holy Cross especially unique is our ability to celebrate and explore our Catholic faith each day. We have been afforded the privilege to discern our character while deepening our relationship with God,” the Factoryville native said.

“We’ve shared the sacraments as a school community and learned the power of prayer.” Kovalchick added that the Holy Cross educational experience motivated the Class of 2020 to serve God by serving those around them and taught them that genuine discipleship goes far beyond attending Mass on Sundays.

“It involves treating God’s creation and children with respect every day,” Kovalchick explained. Of the 71 Holy Cross graduates, 60 of them will be attending four-year colleges or universities, more than half of which are Catholic colleges or universities. Five other graduates will attend two-year colleges, two will immediately enter the workforce and one plans on entering military service.

The Holy Cross Class of 2020 was awarded 406 scholarships, equating to an amount of $16,183,079.


God’s power, love and mercy sustain us wherever we find ourselves

SCRANTON – Wearing a mask and sitting on a lawn chair directly in front of a sign encouraging social distancing, Kim Derbin waited patiently for the closing Mass of the Solemn Novena to Saint Ann to begin on Sunday, July 26, 2020.

“I’m blessed. I try not to ask for too much. I do ask for patience,” Derbin said. The 96th Novena at the National Shrine of Saint Ann in West Scranton was unlike any other for many reasons. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, all Masses and services were held indoors where seating capacity was limited and sanitization a constant priority. But for Derbin, the 2020 Novena was different for another reason, it was the first since her mother passed away last summer.

“She is close to me now. She is with me all the time like God is with me,” Derbin added, saying she was thankful the ten days of prayer and devotion were allowed to go on. “I think some people think ‘it’s so different,’ but different is okay.”

Traditionally, Novena crowds number in the tens-of-thousands. This year, the numbers were just a fraction of that. Many chose to watch Novena services on CTV: Catholic Television or social media.

“I watched it on TV. I made a point to watch this past week,” Antoinette Varvaglione of Pittston said. Varvaglione attended the closing Mass of the Novena. It was her first time at the Basilica this year which she said was unusual.

“You hope and pray all of this goes away and we can get back to our lives,” Varvaglione explained. The preachers at this year’s Novena focused on the theme “By His Wounds, We Are Healed.”

During the closing Mass, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera focused on hope – saying despite the pandemic – God is woven into our lives and His power, love and mercy sustain us wherever we find ourselves and whatever the challenges facing us may be.

“If you stop and consider what we’ve been up against for the past five months, we’ve been immersed in a global pandemic that continues to wreak havoc throughout the world. We’ve been isolated one from another, afraid for our own well-being and that of those we love. We’ve been confronted with loss, grief and pain…yet through it all, something quite miraculous has occurred. We have been living out our faith – even and especially in the midst of adversity,” Bishop Bambera said.

“So many among us have looked beyond themselves and their own comfort and well-being to serve the most vulnerable. Many of you have reached out to the lonely and have sought to care for the brokenhearted. Countless numbers of you have shared from your bounty with those who have lost so much. In so responding to our suffering world, countless numbers of you have acknowledged, almost instinctively, where the true and lasting treasures of God are to be found. They are found within us and among us, aren’t they?”

During his homily, the bishop noted that while this year’s Novena looked much different, the Novena prayers can truly be said anywhere. He used an example to illustrate his point.

“I went into the doctor’s office for a check-up the other day at 7:15 a.m., and as I signed in at the desk, the woman sitting behind it held up her Novena prayers, reminding me that they can be prayed wherever we are,” he illustrated.

Al and Madaline Lori of Waverly listened to the bishop’s homily while maintaining social distancing outside the Basilica.

During a normal year, the couple would attend services up to five or six days. This year, they only came in person twice.

“I feel peace here. It brings me right back to my childhood and I strongly believe in the Blessed Virgin and Saint Ann,” Madaline Lori said.

“Over the years, there have been so many medical things we’ve laid before her and asked for help, and she has come through all the time.”

While noting that only about 65 people sat outside during the closing Mass, Al Lori said the precautions in place didn’t dampen the experience.

“We have to be safe. It makes sense to be more careful,” he added.


CARBONDALE – Even before the emergency food distribution was slated to start outside the Catholic Social Services Carbondale office on July 17, cars were lined up down River Street.

“The need is so intense, I’ve never, never seen it so diverse,” Michelle Santanna, Catholic Social Services Carbondale manager, said. For more than two hours, volunteers and employees handed out boxes of fresh produce and other food items to people in need. “The need is enormous. We get phone calls every day,” Catholic Social Services receptionist Eileen Roman said.

“Wherever somebody comes from, we don’t question them. We just say it’s here for everyone to have.” At the end of a two-hour time period, the emergency food distribution event had helped 338 families. That includes 286 adults, 161 children and 153 seniors.

“The stories are just overwhelming. We know there is a great, great need and a great suffering in a lot of people that come for food here,” Roman added. The beneficiaries of the food distribution were thankful for the helping hand.

“I’m thankful for whatever I get,” Raymond Ward of Carbondale said. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ward said he has had to make difficult choices between paying bills and buying food.

“It means I’ll be able to pay all my bills,” he added. Seeing all of the volunteers and workers braving the July heat to help their neighbors in need left a lasting impression on Ward. He expects the food he received would be able to last for months.

“It’s like Christmas when you go home, opening it up,” he explained. It’ll probably last three, four months. I’ll stretch it out.” The Catholic Social Services Carbondale office distributes food five days at its pantry but since the COVID-19 pandemic started has also held four emergency food distributions to help individuals and families who are struggling. Santanna says many people have lost jobs, are experiencing long delays in getting unemployment compensation or faced hardships feeding children when schools closed abruptly in March. Since the beginning of the coronavirus, she estimates serving between 1200-1500 families each month just from her office in Carbondale.

“Thank God for the Weinberg Regional Food Bank because we have bags ready on a consistent basis and we are seeing a lot of the same people week by week, it is how they’re feeding their families,” Santanna explained. Organizers say that recipients don’t need to be Catholic or even live in Carbondale to get assistance. They stress they are a community resource open to anyone in need.

“Anyone that needs it can come here to see us for it (food). I’d say there is a great need and we’re here to try and fill that need for all the people that we can,” Roman said.

If you would like to assist the efforts of the Carbondale office of Catholic Social Services to help feed people in our community, monetary donations can be made at www.dioceseofscranton.org/ emergencyfund or by mailing a donation to Catholic Social Services, 34 River Street, Carbondale, PA 18407.


The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has certainly put a hold on or outright cancelled many parish activities and traditions faithful have come to enjoy and appreciate each year without much second thought. However, one component of parish life the coronavirus cannot stand in the way of is the continuous need for upgrades and renovations to our beloved houses of worship and essential church facilities. Parish refurbishment projects have abounded recently around the Diocese of Scranton. Several notable physical restoration campaigns reached their celebrated conclusions, while others remain ongoing with joyful anticipation.

The parish community of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Peckville eagerly awaits the celebration of the 50th anniversary of their present church edifice in Lackawanna County’s Mid Valley region, which has undergone significant improvements to fittingly host the jubilee occasion. According to parish pastor Father Andy Kurovsky, Sacred Heart of Jesus Church will showcase its new look during the upcoming Labor Day Weekend on Sunday, Sept. 6, when a Golden Jubilee Mass of Thanksgiving will be offered to commemorate the dedication of the unique church structure in 1970. Referring to Sacred Heart of Jesus as “that round church” he heard it called when he first arrived to shepherd the Peckville parish faithful nearly three years ago, Father Kurovsky said the house of worship was considered “avant garde” when it was built 50 years ago under the guiding hand of Sacred Heart’s founding pastor, Father Joseph Gilbride.

“As a presider, it is one of the greatest places to celebrate liturgy,” the pastor said of his “sanctuary in the round,” originally built to accommodate 700 worshippers. “As you look out at the congregation, you have people all around you, a wonderfully welcoming community of faith.” Father remarked the parish embraces the church’s signature intimacy and charm and thrives on their unofficial epithet: “The Round Church…where there’s room for everyone!”

“By the grace of God, this phrase has been given flesh by the 300-plus families who have joined in recent years, as well as by long-standing members who have welcomed them with open arms.” Father Kurovsky noted that in the past 50 years, Sacred Heart Church had undergone just one major renovation project — in 1984. With the church showing its wear, preparations for its 50th anniversary year provided the ideal opportunity for upgrades and updates and a $450,000 jubilee restoration campaign was launched.

“While the work in the interior of the church and the sanctuary have been completed,” he said, “other renovations are still ongoing.” Of note, colorful carpeting in the sanctuary has been replaced by wooden flooring and the overall interior of the church has been shaded with more earthy tones to match the new ceiling with its wood-like look. Also, something old became new again when the original tabernacle from the parish’s beginnings in 1946 was discovered, and the decision was made to refurbish the age-old altar piece and restore it to prominence in the sanctuary. The former baptismal font that contained a small bowl has been reconfigured to provide flowing water for the Sacrament of Baptism.

“The hallways leading into the nave (of the church) have been brightened and an office has been added for our newly created position of Minister of Worship,” Father commented. “We have also put in a separate reconciliation room as an addition to our private prayer chapel, which is used for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and private Eucharistic prayer and reflection.” The 50th Anniversary church celebration in September anticipates the 75th Jubilee of the founding of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in 1946, which, it is hoped, can be observed with a Pontifical Mass of Thanksgiving on April 24, 2021.

The Pittston parish community of Saint John the Evangelist entered the new year of 2020 with a clear vision of promise and hope for their iconic house of worship on William Street, which has dominated the city’s skyline for 130 years.

According to Father Joseph Elston, pastor of the Pittston parishes of Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Joseph Marello, the extensive restoration Marello, the extensive restoration project of Saint John Church began in earnest in January as the parish launched its “2020: Bringing Our Faith into Focus” campaign.

The generosity of  parishioners and friends of Saint John’s spearheaded the massive renovation undertaking, which would close the church doors and move liturgical celebrations and the faithful to the nearby church hall for six months.

“The final Mass before the project got underway was held on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6,” Father Elston related, “work began the very next day.”

Saint John’s would be revitalized in its entirety, with a complete repainting of the church’s interior and installation of new flooring. An ornate baptismal font imported from Pietrasanta, Italy, now graces the center aisle, accented by commemorative floor tiles in homage to the four parish communities Saint John the Evangelist currently encompasses.

New sanctuary chairs were provided by Saint Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana. The presider’s chair has been placed in honor of Monsignor John Bendik, Saint John’s pastor emeritus who is an alumnus of Saint Meinrad School of Theology.

When the first public Mass in the newly restored Saint John the Evangelist Church was celebrated on July 18, proud parishioners and friends once again enjoyed the angelic tones of the 1920s George Kilgen and Son pipe organ, which underwent a thorough cleaning and refurbishing. One of the organ’s trumpet ranks was applied with gold finish, remounted horizontally and renamed the “Evangelist Trumpet” in tribute to the parish patron saint. Other aspects of the renovation included restoration of the church’s marble work and pews and complete refurbishment of the edifice’s imposing wooden front doors. Founded it 1854, Saint John the Evangelist Parish constructed its present church in the late 19th century, with the majestic house of worship dedicated in 1893 by Bishop William O’Hara, first bishop of Scranton. The church’s artwork includes depictions by renowned Roman artist Gonippo Raggi, whose paintings can be found in the Cathedral of Saint Peter and rotunda on Marywood University’s Liberal Arts Center.

“The church bells, silenced by the storm damage, are once again calling people to Mass and prayer every day.” The words of Fr. Thomas Major proudly proclaim the completion of a daunting restoration project for Saint Basil Church at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Dushore. When a tornado struck Saint Basil’s on April 14, 2019, it came on the heels of the parish already facing major expenses as the furnace in the church hall stopped working two months before and needed to be replaced. “We lost our steeple and roof of the church,” Father Major said of the fierce Palm Sunday night storm. “Trees were uprooted and tombstones toppled as the storm hit the church roof and rectory directly.” That made the need to raise money for capital improvements greater than ever and, as Father Major explained, the roof restoration project proved more expensive than originally believed. “Meanwhile, furnaces and hot water heaters needed to be replaced,” he said, “and we as a parish had just completed restoration of the Saint John Neumann Shrine in Sugar Ridge,” with the help of the Habitat for Divinity young corps of volunteers from the Diocese of Scranton. As the Immaculate Heart of Mary pastor related, the parish’s capital campaign efforts proved truly remarkable as faithful made the necessary sacrifices and raised nearly $200,000 for the urgent repair and replacement work.

“Bad weather and the COVID virus delayed construction several times, but (we) were able to complete the work for July 4, in time for us to open the churches with our summer Mass schedule,” said Father Major, who credited numerous local professionals, parishioners and even a crew of men from the Amish community for assisting with the tornado clean-up and rebuilding of the church. Historic Saint Basil Church dates back nearly 150 years to 1873. “We are now ready to serve well into the 21st century,” the pastor remarked.

Faced with the impending closure of an aged and deteriorating — yet still magnificent — Saint Gabriel Church, the Annunciation Parish community in Hazleton embarked on a major capital campaign in late 2018 to save their venerable house of worship.

The “Restore His House” campaign continues its efforts to complete the $1 million restoration of Saint Gabriel Church, explained Saint Joseph Oblate Father Mariusz Beczek, Annunciation’s pastor.

Often referred to as having the appearance of a grand cathedral, Saint Gabriel’s, Father Beczek noted, “testifies to the grandeur of the Catholic faith, not only because of the beauty of the sacred space, but also because of the determination of the poor Irish immigrants,” who built the church at the beginning of the last century.

During the end of the 20th century and into the new millennium, the Hazleton Catholic community has benefited from the support and devotion from a new wave of immigrants — those of Hispanic and Latino origin — who have been welcomed and embraced by Annunciation Parish.

According to Tom Kennedy, chairman of the Annunciation capital campaign, the parish has been blessed with enough financial support to get the prodigious church restoration project off the ground. Numerous donations and pledges have come not only from the faithful in the pews, including the growing Hispanic congregation, but former parishioners, graduates of the former Saint Gabriel School, and area residents.

“More money needs to be raised,” Kennedy said, “but the generosity of the faithful will certainly allow Saint Gabriel’s Church at Annunciation Parish to be, once again, a sparkling presence in Hazleton and, more importantly, the spiritual home for all who choose to worship here.”


TOWANDA – There is no masking the joy experienced by parish families – and the parishes themselves – as the sacraments of initiation are now taking place in faith communities around the Diocese of Scranton. First Holy Communions and Confirmations, traditionally held as springtime events, had to be postponed to the summer months as COVID-19 wreaked havoc with the scheduling of such momentous occasions.

“The pandemic has provided challenges,” Marie Seibert, director of religious education at Saints Peter & Paul Parish in Towanda, said after the parish celebration of First Communion and Confirmation were pushed back to mid-June and late July, respectively. As the milestone liturgies were limited to participants and close family members in order to stay within the CDC safety guidelines, Seibert said there was somewhat of a silver lining in the COVID-19 cloud.

“While we missed having a Joyful celebrations of First Communions, Confirmations & Sacraments of Initiation underway big event, the small groups meant we could focus more closely on each person receiving the sacrament, and perhaps be a little less stressed,” she remarked.

“The Masses were both peaceful and joyful.” Father Ed Michelini, pastor of Saints Peter & Paul, who conferred the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation to his young parishioners, echoed the sentiments of his DRE and added how pleased he and all who were involved are, now that the “spiritual rites” of passage were able to be accomplished amidst the fluctuations of the pandemic.

“The (sacraments) were respectfully and reverently done by all in attendance,” he said. “God causes good to happen even in the midst of chaos.” Saints Peter & Paul parishioner Sara Nash had two children receive their First Holy Communion, noting, “My daughter wore my First Communion dress that was 30 years old.” “I love that we were able to have (First Communion) with the entire class, with precautions,” she said. “I felt it went very well. What I appreciated most was that we waited, because it’s a milestone and should be enjoyed.”

Noting the unprecedented times and the need for creative scheduling, Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Susan “Suzie” Armbruster explained the first priority was the celebration of First Eucharist for the children of Saint John Neumann Parish in Scranton’s South Side. The Saint John Neumann pastoral associate noted four separate First Holy Communion ceremonies needed to take place this summer to provide for gatherings of small groups of first communicants and their parents. But the essence of the occasions was never compromised. Sister shared, “The children were excited and ready to see their friends and family and to finally come to the Feast!” The Scranton city parish followed with the Rite of Baptism for those ranging in age from children to adults. Confirmation ceremonies originally slated for the end of May for 35 young parishioners and adults were first rescheduled for October but ultimately celebrated earlier this month. “Our philosophy was to be flexible with all of our celebrations and to make them a priority while maintaining the safety of everyone,” said Sister Suzie.

“We know that this was not easy for families, but hopefully it helps all of us to grow and recognize that it is our faith that will bring us through these times.” She added, “All of our families have been grateful, and many remarked that the simplicity made it special and recognized that the emphasis is on the sacrament.” At Blessed Sacrament Parish in Throop, First Holy Communion and Confirmation were administered a day apart by their pastor, Monsignor Michael Delaney, who felt the month of July presented the best opportunity for the celebration of the sacraments. Referring to the First Communion ceremony and the small class size that enabled the children to receive as one body, Blessed Sacrament DRE Karen Doyle stated the parish broke from tradition as students sat with their parents, with social distancing and mask requirements in place.

“When it was time for the children to come to the table of our Lord and receive the Eucharist for the very first time, their parents accompanied them,” she said. “It was beautiful to see parents assist their child in such a special way,” explaining that parents stood on either side of their First Communicant and helped with removing his or her mask to consume the Eucharist.

“The days were special days for all our families,” remarked Doyle. “We did not dwell on what we could not do or what we had to do. We were in the House of the Lord, and I know we were blessed to see the children receive their sacraments.”


SCRANTON – At a time when young adults are being encouraged to remain physically distant from one another due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they are still finding ways to come together spiritually. On Monday, July 27, the Diocese of Scranton Office for Parish Life launched The Together Project, an opportunity for high school students to join together in a virtual community building experience.

“The ultimate goal of The Together Project is to keep us all together. We’re building a community by small group discussion,” Shannon Kowalski, Diocesan Director for Service and Mission, said during the opening session of the virtual experience.

“We’re all in this together and staying open to the spirit.” Bishop Joseph C. Bambera joined the initial meeting of The Together Project, leading the young adults in prayer, joining them in their discussion on faith and answering questions that they had. The Together Project was started and designed by young people who didn’t want to give up the new and old friendships they would have fortified at summer camps, retreats and parish events.

“I’m so glad we’ve gotten together,” student leader Annabelle Callis said. For the last several weeks, the students have continued the momentum of the opening session by taking part in weekly small group discussions and prayer opportunities. High school students from around the diocese are taking part in The Together Project. Some of their hometowns include Moscow, Scranton, Clarks Summit, Williamsport, Dallas, East Stroudsburg, Wilkes-Barre, Tunkhannock and Mountain Top.

During the initial meeting of The Together Project, the young adults focused on what they are most grateful for – and what has been the most challenging part – during the COVID-19 pandemic. One student said she was thankful that her entire family has been able to be together while under stay-at-home orders which is highly unusual. When discussing the challenges, students focused on having extra down-time and not being able to go to Mass in person. As the conversation continued, one young adult said she has now been blessed with extra time to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet daily and even start a blog for Catholic teens. As the initial session wrapped up, Bishop Bambera reminded the young adults that God is always there for them, especially during these difficult times, and they should never hesitate to call on him.

“I’m so incredibly struck by all of you and the profound things that you have shared,” the bishop said. To learn more about The Together Project, visit www.dioceseofscranton.org